Richard Jones the Diocesan Stewardship Officer visited the parish again this Sunday (September 13th) as part of the Parish Stewardship & Giving Month. He preached at Evensong.
Corinthians Ch 8 v 5 – “And they exceeded all our expectations. They gave themselves first to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us”.
In any crisis – in the all too often crisis of the world, one good thing which often comes out of a tragic, desperate, dark situation, is a reversal of human values. The generosity of others so often springs from both abundant joy and extreme poverty – in the eyes of the material driven, consumerist world, a paradox perhaps. In human terms that hardly makes sense, but so often an awareness of poverty makes us conscious of the needs of others. Evidence of such behaviour is all around us in the response the current plight of Syrian refugees; so often it is those who have the least who respond the most generously. Such was the case too amongst some of the early churches as described by Paul and others in our epistles. The generosity of our brothers and sisters in the African churches who give generously and sacrificially, sharing the little they have, with abundant joy and thanksgiving to God. For those like me who have collected for Christian Aid door to door, know that it is often easier in more deprived areas than from the more affluent. In our churches it is all too often those who have the least, who give the most.
The early church begged for the privilege of giving. Sometimes this does happen, and God gives the grace to respond to a human emergency such as the refugee crisis. Yet too often we give only what we think we can spare. Giving is too often a duty rather than a privilege. Many of those in the early church gave even beyond their means. Their values had been overturned as they longed to share with others. ‘First to the Lord’ is the a key phrase to understanding of Christian giving and is essential to our consideration of our own financial giving to the work of this church, which you are all being asked to think, pray about and review in this parish, during this month. There is, or should be, within our lives of faith, an overwhelming sense of the generosity of God that brings a response in giving to the Lord. Our commitment to Christ is at the heart of all our generosity. It is when we know the generosity of our Lord Jesus Christ that our lives will overflow in giving ‘first to the Lord’ and then to others. For a family or a church, one of the most fulfilling moments of life in Christ is as we determine our giving to others, prayerfully, experiencing the joy of giving as we have received.
Paul the apostle is not prepared to command the early church, but he is prepared to challenge them. Giving has to be voluntary, borne out of freewill and an expression of our faith – but Paul is clear about what the expectations are – for you and me too! He does not simply say that it is up to us to decide how much to give. He challenges us to demonstrate the love we claim to have. Maybe we are too timid in asking one another to show our love by our generosity. How does our financial generosity measure up when compared to what we spend on other aspects of our lives? – there is more on that within your parish stewardship booklets for you to read and consider. Do we give ‘First to the Lord’?
But all this depends not on us and our benevolence, nor even on the needs of your church here. Rather this depends on the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is what Jesus has done for you and me. He demonstrated his love by giving all of himself. We enter into the richness of that giving. So we are freed to give of ourselves because we have the ultimate security of knowing his love and grace to and for us. Sharing in good work and cheerful giving are marks of that grace. Maybe in the regular reassessment of our giving we can know the grace and overflowing gratitude that infused the early church and rediscover it as part of our being and belonging here at St Mary’s.
There is a virtuous circle here that expresses that personal relationship between the people of Christ and their generous God. So generosity does indeed provide for those in need. It also overflows in thanksgivings to God. The two cannot be separated, and both result from God’s blessing. The whole picture is of an exciting faith that makes our whole being respond in generosity.
That isn’t all without cost. There is a challenge to recognise that we already have enough. Remember the early church whose generosity flowed from joy and poverty. This is no giving away of the scraps after we have fed ourselves. It is an integral part of our being.
God has given us so much. There is no more to be said and, if that is where we find ourselves, then all that we hear about generosity within the early church will be the hallmark of the church, your church, here, today too.
This is about you and your living and giving for God. We are each called to respond, to that encounter, that recognition, that invitation, that sharing, that love; – God in all we do, all we say and all we are. I commend your parish giving initiative to you, for your thought, your prayer and your response.
Let us pray…
Some words of John Wesley, as we pray for ourselves as stewards of all that God gives us, and how each respond to share through our living and giving, the generosity of God in our lives…
Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.
We offer this prayer in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.